Friday, April 5, 2013

Education for Thinking

Kuhn, D. (2005). Education for thinking. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

This book takes the focus off of class content and focuses on two skills that Kuhn believes are critical for all learners;  inquiry and argument.  I was drawn to this book mainly due to the chapters on inquiry and will therefore forego expanding upon the argument chapters.  Throughout the book, Kuhn illustrates her points by referencing the inquiry habits at two schools; one struggling, the other a “best practices” school.  In general, she concludes that neither school is doing true inquiry although there are some bright spots that can be built upon.

Chapters 3-5: Inquiry (pp. 39-109)
Much of these chapters are techniques for teaching inquiry in the classroom.  As I develop inquiry lessons this book could be a great resource, but it is not currently the focus of my understandings or research. Below are some quotes and ideas that stood out to me from these chapters.

Two quotes emphasising the  value of inquiry learning over traditional methods:
“Inquiry learning, they claim, is superior to traditional instruction because it involves students in authentic investigation of real phenomena, in the process fostering intellectual skills like those that practiced by professional scientists in generating new knowledge.” (p. 39)

“Teachers would be unlikely to teach information included on state tests via an inquiry method. Instead, the primary goal of an inquiry curriculum is to teach students how to inquire and learn.  If achieved, the outcome appears to be a powerful one, well worth the effort invested.” (p. 39)

Interesting section on technology:
Kuhn takes a brief moment to talk about the use of software when teaching inquiry. Many software developers have created products that claim to assist with inquiry, but I have always been skeptical.  Kuhn also had reservations and references a study by Edelson, Gordin, and Pea (1999).  A few notable conclusions they made are:
  • Students need more help to develop questions before seeking data;
  • Students must be able to contextualize the data and develop their own expectations in order to understand it;
  • Students need support for reading how data is displayed;
  • Open-ended investigation must be preceded by more structured “staged” activities. (p. 56)
Kuhn goes on to say:
“If these are the results of inquiry curriculum development efforts, perhaps we should focus our attention not on the teaching tool [. . .] but rather on the capabilities that students bring to the tool.” (p. 56)

Framework for an inquiry lesson:
Kuhn suggests that any inquiry lesson should follow the process of inquiry, analysis, and inference. (p. 80)
  • Inquiry is . . . developing questions and collecting data possibly relevant to that question.
  • Analysis is . . . sort, filter, and organize data, compare data, find patterns.
  • Inference is . . . justify claims, reject unjustified claims, acknowledge indeterminate claims.
Pages 92-109 then use actual examples of inquiry lessons to demonstrate techniques.  There is nothing that I want to focus on right now, but I may want to refer back at a later date.

Chapter 9: Becoming educated
The final chapter of the book focuses on what it means to be “educated”.  In general, Kuhn focuses on “Intellectual Skills” and “Intellectual Values”.   I got a lot from this final chapter that relates to my own interests and I have pulled several quotes from it.  In the vein of the rest of the book, she focuses on inquiry and argument and the following quote demonstrates that they connect very closely to my own purpose of developing lifelong learners:
“Education must prepare students for life beyond school, and inquiry and argument are broad and powerful skills that students take with them outside the classroom and well beyond their school years.  Their exercise leaves people enriched, individually and collectively.” (p. 178)

The below quote was the most striking for me from this text:
“[. . .] the value of inquiry and argument is intrinsic and revealed as the skills are engaged, practiced, and perfected. These are not skills someone acquires on faith because an external authority has deemed them a means to some unrelated end.  Inquiry and argument yield their own rewards. They are means to the end of knowing, and the educated person has come to value knowing as preferable to ignorance, and hence as capable of serving its own reward.” (p. 178)
This quote articulates how strong of a motivator curiosity can be.  But students cannot just be told that curiosity is a good thing, they have to experience it.  They then have to value the knowledge that they gain from the inquiry process, which means that they must be delving into topics of interest for them.  This is illustrated in the below quote:
“The question of learner’s dispositions brings us to the topic of intellectual values. Students decide what is worth their while to invest effort in. Educators ignore students’ intellectual values at their own risk.” (p. 182)
I think this shows that using statistics as the inquiry tool and not as the end goal will allow students to be curious about whatever they want, at least to start with.  My goal is to develop this sense of curiosity in students so that it spreads to areas that may not be of natural interest to them.  This is again articulated in the following quote about learning through reading (a metaphor I believe for inquiry in general):
“Every child must make the critical transition from learning to read to reading to learn. To truly make this transition and become a lifelong reader, the developing reader must come to appreciate the purpose of reading as one of finding out. Once they leave school and the reading demands it imposes, adults continue to read only if they have come to believe that there are worthwhile things to find out and that the printed word is an effective medium for finding them out.” (p. 178)
I think “reading” in the above example can also be replaced with statistics.  This emphasis on value is also noticeable in the following quote:
“Only through their own experience will students come to believe in inquiry and reasoned argument as offering the best means of evaluating competing claims, resolving conflicts, solving problems, and achieving goals. These are the intellectual values they need to develop. Developing these values is every bit as important for students as developing the skills required to implement them.” (p. 186)

Below is another quote that emphasises how the topic of inquiry does not need to be any specific content:
“Certainly, knowledge acquisition must be “situated” - any student learns about something in a certain context and for his or her particular purposes. [. . .] It does not follow, however, that intellectual skills cannot be identified outside of specific contexts, in their more general, content-independent form.” (p. 180)

A list of inquiry questions that can be applied to any situation or discipline:
What can I claim and how do I know? What do I not know and need to find out? What are the claims and counterclaims at stake here, and what are the arguments for and against each?” (p. 179)

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